The year was 1979 and the Arts in Architecture Program had chosen noted sculptor Richard Serra to create a piece of work to occupy the space in Foley Federal Plaza near the Javits Federal Building in New York City. The piece that Mr Serra created was a site-specific conceptual sculpture entitled Tilted Arc, the title a literal description to a huge piece of Cor-TEN steel 120′ X 12 X 2.5 which was placed in the plaza in such a way as to cut the plaza in half. Intended to make commuters change their daily routes and engage with the city space in a new and different way, many citizens were angered over the sculpture. Imagine if you will, a huge steel wall suddenly being right in your way on your morning commute…perhaps you would have been more mad at than appreciate of the newly erected, government-funded art work. Tilted Arc was originally installed in the Plaza in 1981 but eight years later after a load of controversy and legal battling the steel behemoth was broken down and stored in a government parking lot in Brooklyn until 1999 when it was moved to a storage unit in Maryland. Mr. Serra has been upfront about the site-specificity of Tilted Arc saying that he has no intention of ever re-assembling it, should it make its way out of that storage unit. The piece was built for one place and the people who use that space but they did not want it and it is no longer a tangible piece of art.
And that is why I wanted to write about it…like the ancient cultures (and many still around today), storytelling and oral history is also important in art. When art deeply affects us, it is talking to others about it that allows us to hear just how affected we were and likewise there are songs that only live on in the memories of those that heard them but on no recording. It is my hope that I am not the only person who wants to tell the stories of lost works of art so that others can know that they were here, they made their mark, and they live on as true reminders of art’s ephemerality. Tilted Arc has a richer history than I recount here but I will leave you to discover more about it on your own…then you can share what you learn with someone else and help to keep Mr Serra’s incredible piece alive.